2016 Audi Q7 Quick Review

Critic's Notebook takeaway: 420 nighttime miles go down easy in the Q7.

Audi Q7 Review
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After two long days in a Skip Barber formula racer, I was sticky and exhausted. Peeling off my fire suit under a setting sun, I was questioning the wisdom of a 420-mile nighttime drive from Pennsylvania to Manhattan.

At that moment, it was Audi Q7 to the rescue. (Coffee and Red Bull share credit). Stealthy as any family wagon, as adept at chewing up interstate miles as the plush A8 sedan, the Q7 guided me home in semi-autonomous safety and style. Audi’s precisely contoured massaging seats, with the firmest magic fingers in the business, dealt with my achy back. A Spotify playlist on an epic 1,920-watt, 23-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D system helped keep me from nodding off, not least when Richard Hell and the Voidoids came blasting from the punk rock grave.

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And what a powertrain. The Audi’s supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 is officially 333 horsepower, in the way that Barry Bonds was officially a human ballplayer. In combo with air suspension and an agile eight-speed, paddle-shifted Tiptronic automatic, the Audi hotfooted east from Pittsburgh International Race Complex. Skirting the Allegheny National Forest on I-80, a roller-coaster Pennsylvania freeway that beckons even timid drivers to pick up the pace, only the threat of a ticket kept me from cruising at 90 or even 100 mph. The Audi will share its largely aluminum platform with models including the upcoming 2018 Porsche Cayenne, and the Q7's solidity and nimbleness already bode well for Porsche's more-sporting offshoot.

With only a driver aboard, the Q7's newly roomy interior went to waste, including its modest third row. But I could still appreciate the airy-yet-intimate design, and Audi’s obsessive way with details: A yacht-like console shifter that accepts your resting wrist just-so; the taut leather wrap of the Germanic steering wheel, and its creamy heft as you ease into bends. Gleaming metal climate switches sense your fingertips approaching and display their secrets.

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The Q7’s skill set isn’t exactly surprising, considering Audi’s reputation for bringing advanced technology to market, or refining it in ways that elude many competitors. BMW may have been the groundbreaker with its single-knob, screen-based iDrive system, and Mercedes has its similar Comand unit; but Audi’s Multi-Media Interface continues to whip them in features, ease-of-use and gorgeous animated graphics that recall some Michael Bay military command center. Atlas-sized Google Maps on the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit display, also shared with Lamborghini models, can bore down to street views. Friends can beam you a photo, and the Audi will set the destination based on the image’s embedded GPS coordinates. Among myriad safety features, should you attempt an ill advised left turn into oncoming traffic, the Audi will deny the move.

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Like everyone else, Audi is also thumping its chest on self-driving features. The Q7 adds rudimentary automated highway steering, here called Traffic Jam Assist, to the usual adaptive-cruising repertoire. These semi-autonomous systems tend to lull me too much, and I'll typically avoid obtrusive lane-keepers at all costs. But I made an exception here, alone and tired on a dark highway in the boonies.

The Audi can’t deliver mile after mile of near-autonomous driving the way Tesla’s models can; when its system gets flummoxed by a too-sharp curve or unfamiliar road feature, it disengages faster than Boris Johnson after the Brexit vote. But I’d vote Audi’s system as second-best in the industry right now, with more intuitive operation; natural control of throttle and brakes; and less ping-ponging between lane markers than systems from Mercedes, Volvo and Infiniti. It’s especially aggressive about keeping up with traffic in its selectable Dynamic mode, flooring the pedal like a robotic Niki Lauda when it sees open road ahead.

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This all-encompassing SUV does not come cheap. From a reasonable $55,000 starting price, a many-layered frosting of options boosted the price to $85,425. Yet on this east-coast bookend to an earlier test in Napa Valley, the Audi confirmed my first take: Price be damned, this Q7 is going to make friends in high places, from hip cities to private-school pickups.

Right on target, the Audi pulled up to my girlfriend's Manhattan apartment a few minutes before midnight, polishing off 420 miles in 6 hours flat. Instead of the torturous, head-nodding return I had dreaded, the Audi made it pleasurable, its comfort and sense of security palpable. If you’re wondering why Audi is on fire in America, the Q7 is a good place to start.

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2016 AUDI Q7
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED:
 $55,750/$85,425
POWERTRAIN: Supercharged 3.0-liter V-6, 333 hp, 325 lb-ft torque; all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
WEIGHT: 4,938 lbs
0-60 MPH: 5.7 seconds
TOP SPEED: 130 mph
MPG: 19 city / 25 highway